Reviews of the Week with Heather McGhee, Manjit Thapp, Nate Powell, and More!

The Review of the Day has always been a brief, early way to spotlight exceptional upcoming titles on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Themes of equality and social justiceplus richly illustrated graphic novelsconverge in this week’s #ReviewsOfTheDay. Booklist wishes you all well.

Monday, February 1

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee

Why can’t a wealthy, developed country like the U.S. achieve adequate healthcare, infrastructure, school funding, and wages above poverty? For her first book, McGhee, Trustee Emeritus on the Demos Board, traveled all over the country and had hundreds of conversations, revealing the answer: “zero sum” logic. This logic claims if one person or group advances, another loses; five dollars in my pocket equals five dollars out of yours. Poisonously pervasive in U.S policy, zero sum compels white citizens to relinquish benefits rather than see Black and Brown Americans gain. In one startling example of many, public pools, once considered community crown jewels, were closed rather than integrate. McGhee offers a mountain range of evidence that zero sum is a falsehood. While Black Americans are disproportionately affected, the majority of benefit receivers are white, meaning the majority of people losing denied benefits, like expanded Medicaid, are white. In actuality, the “solidarity dividend” proves that everyone’s lives are improved when anyone advances. 

Tuesday, February 2

Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter, by Shani Mahiri King and illustrated by Bobby C. Martin

Black history and culture come alive in this celebratory biography, which has a fresh, pop-art style that bursts with color and a creatively sized and set sans serif font that is as much a part of the illustrations as the many portraits and sleek silhouettes. Taking cues from the street art created during recent Black Lives Matter protests and say-their-name campaigns born of racism and such tragedies as the murder of Breonna Taylor, this book powerfully reflects current events and attitudes while raising up Black Americans past and present. Over 116 figures are named within an inspiring array of fields, literally filling the space with a host of groundbreaking individuals: dancers, journalists, writers, community activists, and more. As readers turn each page, they will notice enlarged text, typically a famous quote or affirming rallying cry, accompanied by a list of names connected to that spread’s topic.

Wednesday, February 3

Feelings: A Story in Seasons, by Manjit Thapp

UK-based illustrator Thapp divides this graphic novel about anxiety into six seasons (inspired by the calendars of some South Asian countries, her author’s note explains), with spare narration accompanying her dramatically communicative art. It begins in high summer, a creatively rich and relatively carefree time. Across a 10-panel spread: “Little worries spring up, but I don’t have time to spend with them. I’m too busy racing through summer, chasing the sun.” Monsoon provides release for the pent-up feelings of late summer, as well as time for reflection. This slowing-down becomes more dramatic in autumn and halts completely in winter, before spring’s reawakening. Thapp transmits the bulk of her story’s emotion through her art, which combines colored-pencil precision and a digitally graphic look, using light and color palette to extraordinary effect. 

Thursday, February 4

Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest, by Nate Powell

Powell states up front that this book isn’t about parenting or activism, but it illuminates where the two intertwine. Weaving through Trump’s presidency, his election, and the cultural history that led to it, Powell navigates minefield conversations on such diverse subjects as policing and the depiction of Nazis in the 1970s Wonder Woman TV show, while reckoning with the lessons of his own childhood. Beginning with the poem “Tornado Children,” much of this work feels like visual poetry: the line-by-line sentences mirrored by stacked horizontal panels that become image-stanzas; spare, nuanced colors punctuated by fearsome splashes of aggression and encompassed by expressionistic darkness. Though that poetry eventually bogs down somewhat in a dense analysis of how the infinitely cyclical nature of war empowers a militarized culture of toxic masculinity, this eventually gives way to his activist rallying cry: when you see injustice, “find a way to get in the way.”

Friday, February 5

The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free, by Paulina Bren

Advertised as “New York’s Most Exclusive Hotel Residence for Young Women,” the Barbizon opened in 1928, promising, as Bren writes in this scintillating, many-faceted history, “protection and sanctuary.” Bren chronicles the innovation and effort, swirling social change, and intense personalities that made the Barbizon a storied launching pad for generations of women in business and the arts. While the hotel liberated women from domestic obligations, it enforced dress and conduct codes and restricted men to the lobby. The Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School housed its white-gloved students there, while Mademoiselle took rooms every summer from 1944 to 1979 for winners of its prestigious guest-editor contest. Bren profiles the “forward-looking” magazine’s editor in chief, Betsy Talbot Blackwell, and an array of guest editors, including Sylvia Plath, who savaged the program in her novel, The Bell Jar; Joan Didion; Barbara Chase, the first African American guest editor in 1956; and Janet Burroway, who offers particularly intriguing insights.'

About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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